Saturday, 29 March 2008

Fat as a political weapon (cross post)

Cross posted at the ex-expat.

When I left university I was obese. I didn't bother stepping on the scales and avoided looking in the mirror because I didn't want to confirm what my size 26 jeans said about me, I was seriously overweight. I hated nothing more when well-meaning people would tell me that I was fine and that it is what is inside that matters to make me feel better. Because in reality, I felt terrible about my appearance and more importantly the extra weight was making me sick. I had frequent lung infections and asthma attacks, I could barely make it up a flight of stairs without having to stop and gasp for air moreover my blood pressure was dangerously high.

Not long afterwards I moved to Asia where I got used to label fat.

The locals were merciless with their use of the word, but to them it was as much of an idle observation about my appearance as my eye colour. However for the Charisma men fat had become a cruel weapon to use against me and any western women who dared challenge their views, particularly if the woman in question was calling them out on their misogynistic behaviour. To be fat was to be unfeminine, aggressive and unloveable, particularly in comparison to the local women. Fat was also a synonym for stupid.

My normal reaction was to give as good as I got, pointing out that their attacks were more a reflection of their own inadequacies as men rather than mine as an overweight white women. But the hateful words still seemed to stick. I hadn't realised how much I had internalised western women's bad press until I saw a group of white women performing on stage and thought 'hey they look kind of chunky.' This would have been a fair point if they performers in question were opera singers however I was watching ballerinas doing their thing.

And then the attacks on me stopped.

I could challenge the charisma men and not be accused of being a ballbreaker or stupid because I had lost 30kgs. Most of my weightloss was done the right way through going to the gym religiously and cutting out all the sugary and deep fried crap that I love from my diet. However sometimes losing weight has also meant skipping meals and sticking my fingers down my throat after a binge if I am having a bad day, which I know is just as unhealthy as downing a deep fried mars bar but it still gave me the result of feeling good and in control. Because for some losing weight isn't just a simple physical equation of increasing exercise and decreasing food intake but a complex set of, at times, irrational emotions.

Has it been worth it?

I have received plenty of compliments about the new look which I would be lying if I said didn't give me an ego boost. However the best change has been in how I feel. I have a lot more energy, I haven't touched my asthma medication in almost 2 years and my blood pressure is well within healthy range. I am reminded how far I have come when when I am loading 20kg weights onto leg press at the gym and realise how much stress that extra weight must have been placing on my body on a daily basis.

However the change I have the most trouble accepting is how my opinions are valued and respected more by men in particular as a non-obese woman than they were when I was overweight. I was reminded about this change when I read some of the comments that have been written about Kate Sutton, a young women who is standing for Epsom at the next election.

There are plenty of reasons that Kate, like any other candidate, could be attacked by her detractors. But instead of being challenged on her political views and experience, the one attack that Kate's enemies like to trot out with alarming frequency is the word that they know hurts her and just about every women on the planet the most, fat. But should a candidate's weight matter? Aside from when an overweight MP is fronting an anti-obesity campaign, which I agree isn't exactly the smartest political move, I can attest as former fattie that my brain works just the same at my current weight as it did when I was obese.

So why is fat used to attack a young woman candidate? Because everyone knows that there are very few women who can comfortably look at themselves naked in the mirror and think 'damn I am hot.' Our brains are hardwired to zero in our cellulite, flabby butts, wrinkles, grey hair, unevenly shaped breasts or zit and think 'god I look terrible.' So let's call this attack for what it is, a viscous and malicious way to put Kate and other young women in their place, out of the political sphere. The more thick-skinned would say that this sort of attacks are part and parcel of being a candidate, and something that women have to deal with if they want to run for office.

However as Deborah points out, women still vote and it is a stupid party that would throw away votes on such a trival issue as apperance.


Anonymous said...

I think Whaleoil was making the point that she's a duplicitous hag who'll say or do anything for her own means her size is not relevant

Anonymous said...

more from Kate Sutton's speeches in a previous life, nice to know that the left of the political spectrum support such clearly balanced candidates.

Women are the victims war (sic) fought by men
My party, the labour party talks about ‘half now’ and putting women out there yet only 32.2% of MPs are women and 23% of cabinet are women – its disgraceful
choices are limited for women in many of these roles and also because the systems that we work within are male dominated systems that are constructed by men.
At this university where many of you feel safe and free from discrimination, the so called ‘critic and conscience of society’ –is one of the worst places that systematically discriminates against women at every level. Why is it that 17% of professors and associate professors are women? But it that over 50% of general staff are women – its because there is still a hierarchy of jobs and there is a still a system where women have choices to move ahead - the boys network still exists in this university and ignores merit and denies women the choice to move forward in their career.
This place is fucking appalling – men tell you what to do, men make you feel bad – men for the benefit of men shape the system. As students we are objectified – I have been one of the people who have made jokes about “easy first years”

University is a sad story for women and we don’t fight against it because we ignore it or see it as tough luck cause its normal.

Date rape, gang rape, sexual violence are all the norm here – it’s a joke because men make it so and they are the blokes, the boys club and they are putting us down and taking our jobs.

What a complete load of cak

Julie said...

Surprise surprise, two anonymous comments both big on the hating, and rather focused not on the points made in the post, but on continuing to attack a woman candidate for a centre-left party.

Kindly familiarise yourselves (or just yourself, if you are just the one person pretending you have friends) with our comment policy:

As for the alleged quotes from Kate (be nice to have an actual link for those, get with the Web 2.0!) I assume they are from the speech she did for WomensFest one year? And actually I find myself in agreement with rather a lot of the quotes you have posted...

I note that rather than refute her points Anon at 2.48pm you simply say it's a "complete load of cak". Well excuse me while I take some time out to bow down and prostrate myself before your mighty debating skills. /sarcasm

Okie dokie folks, let's get back to talking about the points in Stef's post, rather than letting the inept trolls dominate.

Julie said...

Here's a hot link to the comment policy, as it didn't come out quite right in the last comment I made.

Anonymous said...

What would being a hag- even if it was true- have to do with her duplicitous qualities?

Anyway, on the subject of your post- I couldn't agree more. I don't really have any conception of what it's like to be overweight, (I actually have trouble maintaining *enough* weight) let alone an overweight woman in a society like ours where weight is viewed as almost more important for women than brains. This is just another stupid distraction from focusing on what really matters: who the better leader is. And if a candidate can't focus on that, they're not fit to be a leader at all in my books, and I appreciate you singling out this behaviour first. Well done.

That said, having recently been informed of some of the medical discrimination that people suffer when they're a bit chubby, including a woman who continually got told to diet and excercise when she had a tumour, I am frankly disgusted at the sort of prejudice that society forces onto the overweight.

No person is defined solely by their weight, just as no person is defined solely by any other aspect of who they are. Their weight might just be normal for them, too- human beings do actually come in multiple builds, and some of us are healthy rather thin, while others are healthy when they're much bulkier. Just because someone is big doesn't actually mean they aren't looking after themselves.

And as a side note- I happen to think curvier women who are looking after themselves are quite attractive. You should be the right size for you, not the right size for someone else.

Madeleine said...

I can tell you the same story.

At Waikato Uni when I was trim I was on the front cover of the student mag for a story on "murder, feminism and her sexy legs". My legs and sexiness became a hot topic in the letters column.

Then I gained some weight and got ridiculed, harassed and hounded for being fat and ugly.

Now that I am trim again there are polls on the net about who the hottest female blogger is and I am one of the 3 finalists.

I never changed but like you I was stupid when I was fat and I magically regained my brain when I lost weight. People wouldn't give me important tasks to do when I was fat or put any faith in my ability to lead, now I am thin again its a non-issue. It is utterly reprehensible and is a huge part of the low self-esteem that fat women feel.

Some of the smartest women I know are fat. Everyone trots out the line about not judging on their appearance but almost everyone does it.

PS, thanks for the link to MandM, any chance you could update it as it is pointing to our old URL - the new one is Cheers :-)